Monday, 31 May 2010

a psychogeographic walk

Went for a walk in Hertfordshire which ended up being somewhat of a derive.

Firstly, along the 'Alban Way', which is the old London Midland line between Hatfield and St. Albans. I always seem to end up going along old railway tracks and they all share that air of quiet neglect, no matter how much they were part of a regeneration strategy. Reached Hill End station, and again thought about all the people who would have waited there on the overgrown platform that survives for a train, now never to come [I feel like that often with First Great Western].

From Hill End, I diverted to the park on the grounds of the former Hill End mental asylum, founded in the late 1890s, changing its name in the 1930s to the euphemistic 'hospital for nervous diseases', and which was eventually closed in 1995. There is an ongoing project to commemorate the patients and staff of the hospital, but I've not seen anything from this yet. All that there is on site is an information plaque in the somewhat neglected commemoration garden, and even on that, the language is very coded. Half the site is now a big housing estate, which cut into what appears to have been a substantial orchard. Now only a few trees remain. This reminds me of the seemingly endless series of housing estates built on the sites of mental hospitals that Iain Sinclair visited for London Orbital. I don't have the book to hand to check whether Hill End was one of them, but it certainly fits the characteristics that Sinclair identified. A liminal space, for marginal people. Now, a plot of cookie-cutter houses plonked on an old estate, with the language of the private developers masking the history of the site and its original buildings. Yet the memories and old histories still seep through somehow.

The park maintains an atmosphere of peace and natural beauty, but a sadness still lingers. The hospital itself was huge, but now only three of the original big redbrick buildings remain, plus a chapel now used as Trestle Arts Base.

Tuesday, 25 May 2010

class yet again

Still ploughing my way through The Uses of Literacy. A usual exercise in picking out what seems most relevant, but at the moment pp. 59-60 caught my eye. A balanced if a little romantic view of the history of violence in working class culture, and how by the 1950s it was a bygone age, to be replaced by a desire for self respect.
Were the 1950s that golden, that removed from the cut-throats and bare knuckled fighting of the Edwardian and Victorian eras? Again, usual comment here about contemporary concerns about the drunken violence of town centres being nothing new.

It's also worth listening to this stand up/documentary about growing up in the East End. Runs through similar themes as Hoggart and Hanley, but with an personally acute awareness of the lack of aspirations and poverty of the working classes compared with the facades of being bourgeois.

Wednesday, 19 May 2010

'biggest shake-up since 1832'

'The biggest shake up since 1832'. No, no and thrice no. As any historian of reform will tell you, the first reform acts [yes, there was a separate act for Scotland], were far from 'great'. See my summary of the reform crisis in a previous post below. 
  1. 1832 and democracy should not be mentioned in the same sentence, if not paragraph.
  2. 1832 changed very little. Representation was still based on the principle of property. the £10 householder franchise was a compromise [MPs originally wanted it to be £20], and actually defranchised the working classes in some large boroughs like Westminster, Preston, and Liverpool, which had previously had 'potwalloper' franchises or similar.
  3. the middle classes, though some of them got the vote, were too busy in their exchanges and factories to want to become MPs. They went on to 'single issue' politics in the Anti-Corn Law League, and bitterly opposed the Chartists [see the rants in the Manchester Guardian, that bastion of bourgeois liberalism, against the working classes].
  4. see these responses on the History and Policy website.

Hearing of the chaos in Thailand, with 'red shirts' and 'barricades' also puts this into focus too. 

    Wednesday, 12 May 2010

    Friday, 7 May 2010

    parliamentary reform - aide memoire

    Fact time. 
    Key points from this story:
    • during the American revolution, Major Cartwright called for what essentially became the Chartist six points sixty years later - annual parliaments, universal male suffrage, secret ballot, etc.
    • It took until the French Revolution and Paine's Rights of Man (1791-2) to popularise the idea that the vote should be based on something other than the possession of property. Yet the battles around the reform bills in 1830-2 in parliament were focused solely on the possession of property, in its various forms. Even many of the working class men campaigning for the vote in the 1830s and 40s still framed the debate within the notion of property - arguing that labour was a form of property and therefore gave them a right to representation. It would arguably take until 1884, the third reform act, for parliament to recognise the 'rights of man' - representation based on some idea of equality.
    • the redistribution of seats was always arranged for political benefit rather than on some genuine belief in equal representation.
    • secret ballot not achieved until 1872; payment of MPs not until the early 1900s; we still don't have annual parliaments.

    1688 - establishment of the idea of a constitutional monarchy, without a written constitution. King, Lords, and Commons are supposed to 'balance' each others' power.
    1760s - John Wilkes challenges the government's right to remove him from his seat, three times.
    1776 - Major John Cartwright, Take Your Choice!
    1780s - Yorkshire Association pushes for moderate reform in parliament; achieves economical reform. Westminster Association calls for more extensive reform, on Cartwright's model. Achieves nothing.
    1791-2 - Thomas Paine, Rights of Man, parts 1 and 2. One of the most important treatises that spreads the idea that the right to vote should be divorced from the possession of property. 
    1790s - first working-class reform groups form. London Corresponding Society promise 'members unlimited'. 'Two Acts' of 1795 mark highpoint of government repression of radicals.
    1810s - the 'mass platform' becomes the central tactic of radical reformers. First female reform societies. Huge demonstrations across the country.
    16 August 1819 - Peterloo
    1830-2 - reform groups re-emerge and press for the parliamentary reform act. 
    the battle for the Reform Act:
    23 February 1830 – Lord John Russell’s redistribution plan.
    May 1830 – Daniel O’Connell moves for manhood suffrage, secret ballot and triennial parliaments – received only 13 votes.
    28 May 1830 – Russell’s motion for redistribution. Defeated 223 to 117.
    26 June 1830 – death of George IV. William IV accedes to the throne. General election.
    July 1830 – revolution in France.
    2 November 1830 – Wellington made a speech in the Lords against reform.
    Ministers defeated in the Commons on a civil list vote and resigned. Grey’s ministry formed.
    November 1830 – Manchester Political Union established
    December 1830 – Henry Hunt won by-election in Preston.
    December 1830 – committee set up to draw up reform bill
    Late 1830-early 1831 – ‘Swing Riots’ across southern England
    March 1831 – Hunt and O’Connell established Metropolitan Political Union.
    1 March 1831 – Lord John Russell introduced first reform bill to the Commons
    23 March 1831 – Reform bill passed its second reading by 302 to 301 votes.
    20 April 1831 – William IV advised to dissolve parliament by the cabinet.
    Late April 1831 – general election gave Grey’s government majority of 140
    24 June 1831 – reform bill re-introduced by Russell.
    22 September 1831 – Commons passed reform bill by 345 to 236.
    8 October 1831 – Lords defeated the bill on its second reading, 199 to 158.
    Late 1831 – serious rioting in Nottingham, Derby, and Bristol. Large demonstrations across the country.
    12 December 1831 – third reform bill introduced.
    18 December 1831 – second reading in Commons passed 324 to 162.
    23 March 1832 – third reading in the Commons passed 355 to 239.
    14 April 1832 – Reform bill passed second reading in Lords by 184 to 175.
    7 May 1832 – ministers defeated on a motion to postpone consideration of disenfranchisement clauses until the rest of the bill had been sanctioned.
    7 May 1832 – huge meeting of political unions in Birmingham.
    8 May 1832 – Grey asked William IV for the creation of 50 new peers. King refused.
    9 May 1832 – ministers resigned. William IV asked Wellington to form government. Massive petitions from across the country calling upon the kign to stop supplies.
    15 May 1832 – Wellington gave up his commission. William IV forced to recall the Grey ministry.
    18 May 1832 – William IV reluctantly gave a pledge to create new peers.
    19 May 1832 – Wellington agreed to support Grey.
    4 June 1832 – Reform bill passed on third reading in the Lords 106 to 27.

    56 rotten boroughs abolished.
    30 boroughs lost 1 MP.
    143 seats made available for redistribution.
          65 seats to the counties.
          22 large towns, including Birmingham, Manchester, Leeds, Sheffield, and London, given 2 MPs.
          21 smaller towns given 1 MP.
    Scotland awarded 8 extra seats.
    Ireland given 5 extra seats.

    The total electorate out of a population of 24 million was 813,000, or less than 15% of adult males.
    Chandos Clause, which enlarged the county electorate by 30% more than the Whigs wanted.

    Scotland: Fifteen fold increase in electors to 65,000
    Still only votes for 1 in 8 men (1 in 5 for England).
    Ireland: only 5% of Irish men could vote

    M. J. Turner, The Age of Unease: Government and Reform in Britain, 1782-1832 (2000)
    N. LoPatin-Lummis, 'The 1832 Reform Act Debate: Should the Suffrage Be Based on Property or Taxpaying?', Journal of British Studies, 46:2 (2007), 320-45

    Tuesday, 4 May 2010

    election candidates' unusual propaganda

    Henry 'Orator' Hunt, the radical leader and speaker, was imprisoned for three years for his central role in the Manchester reform demonstration that became 'Peterloo' in 1819. After his release from Ilchester Gaol, he became a successful businessman and entrepreneur to fund his political activities. Notably, he sold tax-free 'Breakfast Powder' [?], and bottles of shoe polish with the label: ‘Equal Laws, Equal Rights, Annual Parliaments, Universal Suffrage and the Ballot’. Now that's a way to get your message across using the power of consumerism!
    [Source: John Belchem, Oxford National Dictionary of Biography]

    I'll also give a nod to the wide array of paraphernalia made in support of John Wilkes in the 1760s, including mugs, pots, pin-badges, and, allegedly, chamber pots, and the soles of shoes marked with '45' written in reverse so that the symbol would be imprinted on the ground.